Classic Italian food wine pairings

Top 5 Italian Wine & Food Pairings – Summer 2023 Edition

Ahh, summertime and the drinking is easy.

Here are a few of my favorite food and wine pairings for this glorious time of the year and some of the inspiration for these matchups.

Steak and Sangiovese

A few years ago, I was reading a wine business publication. One of the articles asked 8 sommeliers to pair a red wine with steak, BUT, it could not be Cabernet Sauvignon based. So there goes the classics: Cab-based blends from Bordeaux and big, bold Napa Cabs.

Five out of the 8 picked a Sangiovese-based blend or even a 100% Sangiovese (think Brunello di Montalcino). So, that night I grabbed a steak, cooked it on the grill, and enjoyed it with a Chianti Classico. Amazing! The tannic structure and acidity of the wine were the perfect counterbalance to the fat of the steak. The steak made the wine sing, and the wine made the steak all that much more delicious. This 2016 should do the trick.

A Wine Spectator recipe

While doing some research on Wine Spectator’s website, I stumbled across a great recipe for an ”accidentally vegan dish.” It was Mushroom and Sweet Potato Tacos. The Wine Spectator suggested the tacos be paired with a rosé from the Languedoc. Silly Wine Spectator. We made this at home, and it was delicious! I chose to pair it with my favorite rosés OF ALL TIME: Scaia Rosato.

Scaia’s rosé is made from 100% Rondinella, which is one of the main grapes of Amarone from the Veneto. This dry, crisp, clean wine is just beautiful. It has some classic rosé flavors and aromas of fresh strawberries and roses. But this leans a little more citrusy with a definite note of orange peel. My favorite part is the finish on this wine; it has a white peppery finish that is savory and satisfying. It was perfect with the earthy mushrooms and sweet potatoes. Here is the recipe and the wine.

Old School Lambrusco with what?!

One of my favorite summer sippers is old school, dry Lambrusco. It is very refreshing and meant to be served chilled! Lambrusco is from Emilia-Romgna, which is where some of the most famous cured meats were born i.e., Prosciutto and Mortadella, etc.

Now which summer staple is basically cured meat? That’s right, hot dogs! A hot dog fresh off the grill is perfect with Lambrusco. They are made for each other! These cool crisp, dry, yet fruit-forward sparkling wines are the ideal counter-balance to the slightly smokey saltiness of the hot dogs. So much fun together! Here is a favorite.

A Classic Pairing

Sometimes, an old tried and true pairing is, in fact, perfect. Summer seems to be the best time of year for seafood. Whether it’s a white fish delicately grilled or a pot of steamers, I’ve got a white wine for that: Verdicchio Dei Castelli Di Jesi Classico.

Verdicchio is an ancient varietal that has been growing in the Le Marche region of Italy for centuries. Castelli Di Jesi is a sub-region of Le Marche that runs to the Adriatic Sea. A perfect coastal white wine for seafood. This one in particular, is very close to the Mare Adriatico. It is delicate but with nice concentration. The aromas of white flowers lead to flavors of ripe apples and stone fruits (think apricots). It finishes with a touch of salinity, to meld perfectly with the seafood. Here is one of my favorites.

My Neighbor’s Ribs & Italian Red Zin

A few years ago, my neighbor, just two doors down, started grilling ribs. I always knew when he was making them because I could start to smell them at 9 AM! Low and slow basting for hours made some of the greatest ribs that I have ever had.

One of the best, if not the best, wines to pair with ribs is red Zinfandel. But, this is an article about Italian wine and food pairings. No problem. Primitivo is a red wine from the Puglia (heel of the boot) region of Italy. There is a school of thought (that I happen to agree with) that Primitivo was brought to California by Italian immigrants and thus became known as Zinfandel. The ripe, fruit-forward, almost sweet flavors of Primitivo (and Zinfandel) are a perfect pairing with smoky, gooey ribs. Check this one out.

I have enjoyed every one of these wine and food pairings. I know you will too!

Chris Culkin
Chris Culkin

WSET3 Advanced